By Justice Kamaljit Singh Garewal
Justice BV Nagarathna of the Supreme Court recently referred to justice, liberty, equality and fraternity and remarked that “of all four constitutional ideals, fraternity is what has been least understood”. One cannot disagree.
To examine the truth of this observation, let us begin from the dawn of the modern era when Europe was emerging from the Dark Ages. And from there, tell the story of how we got fraternity in the Preamble of our Constitution.
Fraternity is a western concept which is quite different from our ancient caste system. The reason for this is obvious—fraternity must transcend caste divisions. The closest we get to a very pseudo form of fraternity or brotherhood is bhaichara in rural India, and khaps in Haryana. What follows is an attempt to understand “fraternity”.
Sixteenth century Europe saw reformation in England and the breaking away of the Church of England from Rome. This was also the time of flowering of Renaissance in Italy, in art, music, sculpture and architecture. A little later, enlightenment and the Age of Reason dawned in western Germany. And at about the same time in Punjab, the much travelled Guru Nanak, through reason and reform, preached there was one universal god.
Brahminical thought and practices were challenged through bhakti. Two centuries later, a class of warriors arose from among the underprivileged of Punjab to protect universal brotherhood and humanity by raising arms against the might of the Great Moghul.
France had to wait for another century for its revolution. The French raised the call for liberty, equality and fraternity, and successfully challenged the immense power of the King, the Aristocracy and the Church. Royalty was overthrown, King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette were guillotined and the French Republic was established.
Societies the world over have now come to accept universal brotherhood of man as a matter of binding faith and a universal ideal This is what the little understood concept of fraternity really means. The Preamble of our Constitution resolved to secure to all citizens justice, liberty and equality and “to promote among them all, fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity of the nation”. It was 27 years later that the Constitution’s 42nd Amendment added “integrity” and made it “unity and integrity of the Nation”. All this was really semantic acrobatics. Little wonder that Justice Nagarathna felt that fraternity is not properly understood.
If one gets confused with fraternity and dignity of the individual, it is because the concepts have been mixed up with unity and integrity of the Nation. Unity and integrity by themselves are easily understood but when coupled with fraternity and dignity of the individual, the whole object gets somewhat blurred as far as citizens are concerned, leaving them confounded, confused and none the wiser.
Fraternity is a deep rooted modern civilisational value unless one is still living in medieval India. We must all, high and low, irrespective of our faith, belief, position, class, status, wealth or religion respect each other. From this respect for our fellow citizens shall emerge the strength of our diverse nation where justice, liberty and equality shall be promoted among the People of India. We had made a tryst with destiny and as siblings of that destiny, our country is our home, and the welfare of our siblings is everyone’s shared and prime responsibility. Denial of justice, liberty and equality cannot be our destiny. What a great pity it would be if we were to still blame our karma for denial of justice, liberty and equality.
Therefore, any peaceful and justified agitation by an individual citizen or a group of our citizens must disturb everyone if one feels a fraternal bond with them. The agitation by farmers started in September 2020 and lasted till December 2021. In spite of all manner of provocation, the protest remained peaceful and non-violent. The agitators braved heat, cold, rain, and many privations. Seven hundred of them also died. Unending negotiations over amendments reached nowhere. Ultimately, the three laws were withdrawn. It must be said in favour of the laws that they were an attempt to bring about change for the benefit of the agriculture sector, but it is a mystery why the farmers were not consulted and there was no public discussion or debate.
The on-going agitation by women wrestlers has also been much talked about. The allegations of sexual harassment are against the president of the Indian Wrestling Federation. Solidarity with their cause has been expressed by many individuals and political groupings. After months of making representations, holding meetings and agitating at Jantar Mantar, FIRs based on statements of the victims have been registered. It remains to be seen how justice is secured for them and their dignity assured.
As time passes, one ceases to be amazed by the declining spirit of fraternity in modern India and the continuous rise of indifference towards issues which are clearly unjust and unfair. Justice, liberty and equality, if infringed, are capable of being protected through legal and constitutional means. How does one protect fraternity, which can be easily described in so many ways, but cannot be legislated as it is hard to accurately define and difficult to enforce? Declining fraternal feelings among the people are seldom noticed but if one were to just look around, one shall see this decline in the media, in public spaces, in the market place. This disregard of fraternal feelings is also noticed among decision-makers, otherwise it would not have taken six months for the wrestlers to register their complaints for investigation.
Because the concept of fraternity is difficult to understand, and therefore define, outside the Preamble, there are just a few references to it in the body of the Constitution. One finds strong hints of fraternity in the Directive Principles of State Policy. There is direct reference to “brotherhood” and “humanism” in Fundamental Duties. Article 51(e) states the duty to “promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood among all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities; to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women”. Article 51A(h) articulates the duty “to develop the scientific temper, humanism, and the spirit of enquiry and reform”.
Who can forget Jawaharlal Nehru’s speech at midnight of August 14-15, 1947: “Many years ago we made a tryst with destiny and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially.” Perhaps Nehru felt he had not been able to fully redeem the pledge he made at the midnight hour and reminded the nation of the words of Robert Frost: “These woods are lovely, dark and deep but I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep….”
One may assume that one of the pledges with destiny which Nehru referred to was fraternity, without which no nation can progress. Nehru had self-confessedly also accepted that we had miles to go to keep our pledge with destiny. But no nation can possess unity and integrity without the spirit of a strong sense of fraternity. Examined in this light, the meaning of the constitutional value of fraternity emerges loud and clear.
—The writer is former judge, Punjab & Haryana High Court, Chandigarh and former judge, United Nations Appeals Tribunal, New York